Nov 20th, 2017, 08:16 PM

Underrated Winter Destinations

By Danielle Gregoire
Stockholm City. Image Credit: Shutterstock / Mikael Damkier
Discover Europe's winter gems

This year my Christmas List comprises of places instead of things. Not everyone goes home for the holidays, and especially for students living abroad in Europe it is not uncommon to choose to stay abroad for winter break. And who could blame you? Europe is awesome! It’s full of Christmas markets, fairy lights, snow and is just downright magical. As someone who travels frequently I'm always on the lookout for the next hidden treasure, places that are as-of-yet relatively undiscovered.

Here are the low-key winter destinations next on my list: 

Bruges, Belgium

 Bruges, Belgium. Image Credit: Shutterstock / Tatyana Vyc

This one has been on my list for a while. Only a few hours outside Belgium, this medieval town is nothing short of charming. My grandmother suggested this location to me when I visited Brussels three years ago and it has never left my mind. Perfect for a romantic getaway, this destination is a MUST this cuffing season. Walk around and feel the Christmas cheer as it brings glitter and wonder to this little city. Dip into the extraordinarily rich museums, then find a café or bar with a log fire and warm yourself with hot chocolate or Belgium's best beer (or both). Like most European cities  Bruges has a lovely Christmas market, filled with food, drinks, knick-knacks and more, but hurry before it ends January 3rd!

Salzburg, Austria

 Salzburg, Austria. Image Credit: Shutterstock / Canadastock

It may not be an obvious choice like Vienna but this Austrian city has earned a reputation in its own right. In fact, this city has charmed the likes of Mozart and Julie Andrews — if that’s not enough to convince you one look at the snow-covered Baroque architecture, castles and cathedrals will. Add in Christmas bazaars and nearby skiing destinations, and you'll likely be sold on vacationing in this winter-wonder-city. Two of my best friends have studied in Vienna and as much as they loved it (because lets be real Vienna is gorgeous), they both agreed Salzburg stole their hearts—  I hope this Christmas it steals yours. 

Rovaniemi, Finland 

Rovaniemi, Finland. Image Credit: Shutterstock / Roman Babakin

Rovaniemi is considered by Finns to be the official home town of Santa Claus, and you can’t have Christmas without Santa. Snow stays on the ground 175 days a year on average so you are basically guaranteed a white Christmas, something I've always wanted but never had being from Miami. Visit Joulupukki (Santa Claus in Finnish) in an atmospheric Arctic Circle grotto, and it's free to see him (although I heard photos are another story). Snow and reindeer add festive spirit, while the Arktikum museum gives insights into life at these latitudes. If you want to get into the Christmas spirit, to Santa’s House we go!

Riga, Latvia

Riga, Latvia. Image Credit: Shutterstock / Lisa A

This gem only came to my attention a few days ago and it has already earned a top five slot on my list. It is perfect for a weekend getaway, especially for students because it is very inexpensive. This is most likely because it is over-looked by travelers who normally frequent Berlin or Prague. It has THREE Christmas markets:  Doma Laukums (Dome Square), Līvu Laukums (Līvu Square), and Esplanade Park - which means you will not miss out on seasonal shops and activities.

Bled, Slovenia

Bled, Slovenia. Image Credit: Shutterstock / goodcat

This town was suggested to me by a friend and I am so glad she did. Based on photos I've seen, it is gorgeous any time of year but in the winter it turns into a fairytale. So striking and breathe-taking, my friend says she still dreams of Bled. This year, a Festive Promenade will be set up for the third time in Bled, by the lake (Cesta svobode) from December 1 to January 7, 2018. The stands will offer festive gifts and typical food and drinks from the Gorenjska region. There's also an ice skating rink with a stellar view. Christmas crib (the largest permanent Nativity scene in Slovenia) can be visited here. It is a sight to be behold, illuminated by lights and with a background of music and magnificent Advent scenery. If you grew up Catholic like I did, Lake Bled is a MUST see.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, so go out and find your happy place!